Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Book Review: The Black Pearl

Title: The Black Pearl

Author: Scott O'Dell

Publisher: Dell

Date: 1967

Length: 96 pages

Quote: “Everyone who lives in our town...has heard of the Manta Diablo...But...only two have really seen him. And of the two, only one is alive—I, Ramon Salazar.”

This adventure story is an historical fantasy about old Baja California. In the fishing town of La Paz, children are frightened into good behavior by tales of the “Manta Devil.” Most of the adults who invoke this fearsome creature don't know what a manta ray is, and embroider liberally on what it looks like and what it can do. Ramon was scared of the Manta Devil as a child, but became skeptical, as a teenager, because the monster was described in so many different ways.

At sixteen, Ramon is taken into the family pearl business, and when one of the fishermen who usually bring in pearls is ill, Ramon goes pearl-gathering. He learns that mantas are ordinary sea creatures, dangerous because of their size, but mostly willing to go their own way and ignore humans.

Nevertheless, in order to bring in the biggest pearl anybody has ever seen, Ramon will have to confront the biggest manta, and his superstitious fears of the creature's relationships with the Church and the Devil. And, just in case modern teenaged readers envy Ramon's opportunity to share in a grown-up adventure, we'll see why modern society shelters teenagers: although Ramon is still sixteen as he narrates the story, it's the kind of “how my buddy died” story older men tell.

La perla negra is also available in Spanish, as all good stories about Baja California should be, but my copy is the original English version. The narrative is terse enough to make bilingual reading easy for high school and adult readers. A few unusual words are used, but explained in the narrative.

Fair disclosure: Maybe it's because I didn't enjoy the time I spent in California as a child, but I have never really got into any of Scott O'Dell's books. But that's just me. The Black Pearl was a Newbery Honor book and won several other awards. Lots of people think this was one of the best thousand, maybe even the best hundred, novels about teenagers written in the twentieth century. You might agree with them.

Scott O'Dell no longer needs a dollar. Nevertheless, as regular readers know, our standard price is $5 per book + $5 per package for shipping (if you want the Spanish edition too, both books shipped together would add up to $15). It's a small, slim book and would fit into a package with more than one Fair Trade Book (to see some of those, scroll down; to see all of them, click on the "label" "a fair trade book" when it appears). Payments may be sent to either address at the bottom of the screen.